Every year about 16,000 students qualify as National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists, and this year three of them are from right here at Mill Valley.
To qualify as a semifinalist, students must score within the top 1% on the PSAT.
Seniors John Fraka, John Lehan, and Ben Wieland found out they were semifinalists on Wednesday, Sept. 9 over Zoom.
“Miss Hayes emailed me and was like pretty cryptic about it and asked if I want to go get on a Zoom meeting with her,” said Fraka. “I sat in the conference room in the counseling office, I was on a Zoom meeting with Dr. Holder, all the counselors, John, and Ben, and they just told us there.”
Fraka was not expecting the good news, saying he didn’t even study for the test.
“I was pretty happy,” said Fraka. “I did not expect it. It was a big surprise.. I just took [the PSAT]. I did pretty well, my sophomore year. So I just went in and took it.”
Counselor Erin Hayes was on the meeting where the semifinalists were announced and has worked with winners in the past.
“We typically have anywhere from one to five students who earn the designation as a NM Semifinalist,” said Hayes. “Of those, it is usually just one who ends up qualifying as a finalist — but it completely depends on the year and the students.”
All semifinalists can apply to become a finalist by Oct. 7. This year the way of applying is different than past years.
“Normally you have to submit SAT scores, but this year, since COVID, there’s no people offering tests there’s no test scores,” said Fraka. “It’s an essay, and your extracurriculars, and it’s recommendations from teachers.”
If Fraka and the other semifinalists become finalists, they may recieve scholarships, and in some cases full rides.
“As a finalist, you get more scholarship opportunities,” said Fraka. “The National Corporation offer scholarships, also, colleges you apply to offer you more scholarships as a finalist.”
Semifinalists who don’t qualify as finalists can still receive benefits for what they accomplished.
“Even if students don’t advance as a finalist, to be able to say that they were in the top percentage of the 1.5 million kids who took the test really sets them apart,” said Hayes.